After years of wavering and slow-burning EV development, Honda is about to launch its first set of true EVs, but it isn't forgetting about hybrid and fuel-cell power, either.
Both the Honda Prologue and Acura ZDX remain on schedule and should hit respective dealerships by spring, despite partner GM's current Ultium platform issues.
Showing off strong hybrid sales in 2023, Honda is pushing forward with the 2025 Civic Hybrid, as well as teasing the launch of a new, entry-level Acura crossover.
After years of hounding from journalists and consumers alike, Honda is finally a step or two away from launching its first real EV. It's not that the short-lived Honda Fit EV didn't count, but these impending Ultium-platformed units go beyond the title of compliance car. And Honda will have proprietary EVs soon enough, too, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Aiding in the rollout of Honda's EV (whether executives admit it or not) is a good year of sales in 2023. With 1.3 million units delivered in the US last year, Honda was up 33% year-over-year, marking the first return of some automotive market normalcy since the pandemic.
"We are now out of the recovery phase as production stabilizers are looking to sustain the momentum we established last year," said Mamadou Diallo, Senior Vice President of Sales at American Honda Motor Company. "We anticipate continued sales growth, but at a more modest pace as we maximize production with manufacturing operations while beginning to prepare for the transition to EV production for American Honda."
Of those 1.3 million units, the Honda CR-V was the most popular, accounting for 361,457 units. Both of Honda's iconic sedans (the Civic and Accord) bested 195,000 units annually, and the compact HR-V trailed behind at 122,206 units. Notably, electrified vehicles made up 22% of Honda's 1.3 million sales, with 293,647 hybrids sold in 2023.
The Honda CR-V hybrid was particularly popular, at 197,317 units sold, while the freshly released Accord hybrid accounted for 96,323 sales. Compared to 2022, that's nearly 200,000 additional electrified units sold, for a statistical increase of 205%.
Current generations of the Accord and CR-V first received the hybrid treatment for the 2023 model year, indicating a steep adoption rate over the last two years. Honda has clearly taken notice of this trend, as it teases the incoming Civic hybrid. Set for launch this summer, Honda is optimistic the Civic hybrid will make up 40% of the annual Civic sales share.
Electrified versions of the Civic will come in hatchback and sedan form. Beyond these details, Honda has been coy about potential powerplants for the Civic hybrid. The Accord and CR-V hybrid benefit from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder joined to electric motors, though it's unlikely the Civic hybrid will use the same powertrain configuration.
However, the addition of the Civic hybrid is far from the peak of Honda's 2024 programming. That's because the all-electric Honda Prologue and Acura ZDX will arrive early this year. Based on General Motors' Ultium EV architecture, the sibling models will hit ZEV states as well as Texas and Florida first.
Honda has yet to confirm where the ZDX and Prologue will be produced, and concerns over the unreliable nature of GM's Ultium platform are front and center right now. Despite a full stop-sale on the Chevrolet Blazer EV, Honda executives claim the partnership with GM remains strong.
"Our approach has always been to maintain our own commitment to quality that we deliver to our Honda and Acura customers, " said Diallo. "Our core development work with GM is continuing, so we're confident that by the time of full production, any issues related to the product will be settled and handled."
The Acura luxury brand—which relies on gussied up, more expensive versions of high-volume Hondas, had a strong 2023 in the US, finishing the year up 42% to 145,655 sales. But that mark still falls well below the brand's 2005 peak of 210,000 units.
Acura has plans to boost its sales even more, as it teases an all-new Acura crossover. Details are slim, but representatives for Acura say it will be an entry-level model akin to the Acura Integra sedan (which is derived from the Honda Civic Si). Sharing architectures with Honda has been profitable for Acura in the past, and adding an HR-V-sized model to the lineup certainly wouldn't hurt Acura's bottom line.
Car and Driver previously unearthed two nameplate trademarks filed by Acura under the currently unused moniker of ADX as well as CDX. Notably, the CDX nameplate was used in the Chinese market for an Acura-badged version of the Honda HR-V.
Rounding out Honda's announcements were additional details on its incoming fuel-cell-electric CR-V. A relatively early adopter of hydrogen, Honda's history with fuel cells primarily stems back to the Clarity, which was discontinued in 2021. However, Honda has yet to give up on the technology, this time offering an electric plug-in variety instead of a fillable hydrogen tank.
Prospective customers of the next-generation CR-V FCEV can expect the unique crossover to hit California dealerships in the coming months. Honda has previously said it will produce 2000 of these next-gen CR-V FCEVs by 2025, aiming to build 60,000 units by 2030.
While California is a prime target market for the CR-V FCEV, its plug-in capabilities could broaden its horizons to all ZEV states, at least the ones with a hydrogen fueling infrastructure.
Altogether, 2024 will finally be the year that Honda dips its toes into the EV realm, though ICE and hybrid sales are still likely to carry the company balance sheet. Honda executives expressed some trepidation over higher interest rates, particularly amidst its big push toward partnered and independent EVs, but Honda loyalty is hard to beat, they said.
Will Honda quality control be able to work out the kinks in GM's Ultium battery platform? Please share your thoughts below.